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Fiber us up, baby!

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San Luis Obispo County wasn’t selected by Internet Google in late 2011 to be the recipient of a free fiber-optic network. That honor went to Kansas City, Mo.

But we’re not giving up. On Oct. 16, the San Luis Obispo County board of supervisors voted unanimously to begin prioritizing ways to overcome issues that stand in the way of such a sweeping infrastructure project.

In what county information services technician Guy Savage called “the great infrastructure challenge of the 21st Century,” he described the possibilities involved in laying down ultra-high speed, fiber-optic cable.

“Most people want this: a wireless network anywhere you go, everywhere you go,” Savage reported to the board. “It’s reliable, it can get wet, it doesn’t spark. … It’s capable of transmitting more data, more bandwidth.”

Fiber-optic lines are capable of providing Internet speeds roughly a hundred times faster than the average connection.

Savage said approximately 40,000 SLO County residents don’t currently have access to broadband, according to a Federal Communications Commission study. He reported that demand for broadband access is growing at a rate of 92 percent a year.

A collection of local business owners and chambers of commerce representatives spoke before the board, each excited that developing the county’s fiber-optic infrastructure would attract high-tech businesses to the area, as well as improve communication capabilities between local government agencies.

“This could go well with a push from you, but it’s expensive to build this,” said Tim Williams, CEO of SLO-based digital communications firm Digital West. “It’s going to take public-public, private-public collaboration.”

Over the coming months, the county will be seeking input from interested businesses and agencies willing to come to the table to perhaps begin linking small, existing, subterranean fiber lines in various locations across the county.

“Yes, we would love to spend money on this infrastructure backbone—but, of course, we don’t have money,” Gibson said. “That’s why we would like to get private industry involved.”

No update has been scheduled yet, but county staffers will attempt to have an item agendized by the end of the calendar year. Supervisors asked that such an update be accompanied by a list of priorities—or a “wish list”—of initial steps to get the ball rolling.

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